Setting Celebrant Fees in a Regulated Environment

by © Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
Originally published in The Celebrant, Issue 7, March 2021, pp 68-78
Republished 25/11/2022 with the permission of the Editor.
Categories: | Published Article |  Celebrant | Wedding Budget  |
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"In this excellent article by @jennifercraminclusivecelebrant about Setting Celebrant Fees in a Regulated Environment you can get a good sense of the restrictions and responsibilities that UK celebrants will work under if the desired laws come into being. It is wise for us to go into this with eyes wide open" - Veronika Robinson

                      looking at jar of money

A word to non-celebrant readers

The original article (below) was written for an audience of celebrants. If you are planning to marry, and are researching celebrant fees, you may find it interesting and, hopefully, informative, particularly in the light of the increasingly common assertions by celebrants that you get what you pay for (not always true!) and that more affordable celebrant fees are an indicator of an average or mediocre celebrant (patently false).

Especially misleading (to celebrants!) is the idea that couples who pay more value their celebrant more. For high-end clients (the most common type of "dream couple") $1500 may be a drop in the bucket, and hence not a reliable measure of how much they value what they are purchasing for that amount. Whereas for someone on minimum wage, a $500 fee may represent sacrificial spending, an amount they have had to save for and/or forgo other things to afford. Thus a much more accurate of how much they value their celebrant.

Or if you use another surrogate for value: Someone on minimum wage ($21.38 per hour before tax) would have to work 23 hours and 23 minutes to afford a $500 fee. Whereas someone on $100 an hour would only have to work 15 hours to afford a $1500 fee.

Celebrants choose their own methodology to set their own fees

There is no formula, accepted hourly rate, or consistent methodology by which celebrants set their own fees. Charge what you are worth implies that there is. In reality, celebrants, like any business, need to cover their costs in order to survive. But that's where it gets interesting.

There are very few fixed costs that are the same for all celebrants, regardless of which part of Australia they live and work in. And not all celebrant expenses can be claimed on tax. How much a celebrant needs to make can depend on what that celebrant chooses to spend.

For example, celebrant clothing is generally not tax-deductible (you have to have a registered logo prominently displayed on it to be able to do so). So a celebrant who chooses to wear elegant, classic clothes to officiant ceremonies may (as I do), spend more on an individual garment, but on a cost per wearing basis and overall, much less than a celebrant who chooses to have a fast turnover in their wardrobe of highly memorable garments.

But even where an expense is tax-deductible, such as outsourcing of the writing of the ceremony, an increasingly common practice, a celebrant must set fees high enough to maintain a steady cash-flow.

It's complicated!

Setting Celebrant Fees in a Regulated Environment

Let’s cut to the chase. There are many benefits to being part of an independent celebrant industry. However,  I do understand why celebrants in the UK have been lobbying for some time to be allowed to solemnise legal marriages as celebrants operating outside Register/Registry Offices or religious institutions are able to do in many other countries It is a very soul-satisfying thing to know that, at the end of a heart-felt ceremony where you have given your all and creatively and accurately reflected the couple’s personalities and vision for their wedding, you will have been instrumental in changing their legal status in the most profound way.

But, and it is a big but, with legal privileges comes oversight and control and, while it might seem counterintuitive, increased competition from the very sectors whose rules and requirements have provided convenient point of difference when independent celebrants highlight their unique service proposition.
I’m writing here from 15 years experience as an authorized celebrant in Australia, where the Celebrant Programme has been, from its implementation nearly five decades ago, the third arm of the Marriage Act, so Australia has never experienced an exponential growth in numbers of unregulated celebrants providing a “wedding ceremony” element divorced from the “legal marriage” element of what most marrying couples perceive “getting married” to comprise.

Nor have authorized celebrants been restricted to operating under the aegis and control of a non-government body as have Humanist Celebrants in the UK and the USA.

It must also be emphasized that we celebrants operate in multiple regulatory environments, regardless of whether we are authorized to solemnise legal marriage. Consumer Protection laws, Anti-discrimination laws, Copyright laws, Immigration laws, together with Health and Safety requirements, all apply to everyone operating a business, as do the new and emerging COVID-19 directives, compliance with involves some additional costs.

The cost of doing business is invariably higher in a regulated environment than in an unregulated one. Both regular and irregular increases in costs related to being regulated are a given.

In this article I am focusing on Pricing, however Costing, working out exactly how much it costs you to operate your business as a celebrant, is a critical pre-requisite to setting your fees. It needs to be repeated regularly and whenever there are significant changes that cannot be absorbed.

Pricing Methodologies

For a creative whose stock in trade is very largely words there are three different ways you can charge – by the word, by the hour, by the ceremony.

Charging by the word

A method that used to be very common in freelance journalism, charging by the word is both impractical and very difficult to justify for a ceremony. But the fact that, in Australia, Registry Office ceremonies have traditionally been a set ceremony, the fact that the word length of a celebrant ceremony is flexible therefore cost per word far less expensive can be a good selling point.
Charging by the hour
This method doesn’t fly well with clients, most of whom want a high degree of certainty as to how much they have to budget for celebrant services. It also requires you to assess and forecast how much time a particular couple will require of you. It is relatively easy to forecast how much time will be required on the day; however, it will be a rare celebrant who never strikes a needy or demanding couple. Add unexpected complications with legal compliance and your estimate can blow out. In Australia accepting the Notice of Intended Marriage and verifying identity and whether the couple is free to marry is the sole responsibility of the celebrant. In other legal jurisdictions where a government or local authority entity is responsible for that legal component, the risk of time blowout may be lower.
Charging a fixed price
Quoting a fixed price is currently the preferred method for most celebrants. How an individual celebrant arrives at that price, however, can differ and may have unintended consequences.

My observation is that the most common pricing methodologies used by celebrants include
  • What my competition is charging
or at least in that ballpark, aka as What I think the market will bear.  In the absence of detailed information. (There is none, as there is no comprehensive and exhaustive collection of information by anyone, and any “research” done by the bridal press does tend to focus on high end weddings).
  • Less than what other celebrants in my area are charging
a tactic assumed to get a foot in the door intending to increase my fees as I get better known. Unfortunately, when a surfeit of celebrants new to the industry adopts this tactic it results in overall depression of celebrant fees because it impacts public perception of celebrant services worth. A race to the bottom can quickly result if other celebrants then drop their fees to price-match.
  • What the competition is charging but with numerous special offers or generous discounts
Not only does this tactic negatively impact public perception of what a celebrant’s services are worth, it also alienates clients who have paid full price and generates suspicion that “full price” is artificially inflated.
  • What you think the client can afford
It is not unusual for celebrants to adjust their quoted fee according to their perception of what the client can afford based on other information, such as how expensive the venue is, what the clients’ respective occupations are, and so on. Risky, because it is easy to get those estimations wrong. Case in point. A celebrant colleague was approached to quote a very low price for a couple because of their personal situation and that the whole wedding would be very much a low budget affair. The price quoted and agreed was way below what it cost to deliver the service. And the wedding turned out to be a large affair with no other expense spared.
  • What you think you are worth
While charge what you are worth is easy to suggest, in practical terms it often comes down to a form of price matching with the top-end-of-the-market, or what, in the absence of reliable information, you think the top end of the market is charging.
  • What I call FIGJAM pricing
You know what that means. In Australia and the UK, as in many other countries, puffery (defined by the [UK] advertising codes as ‘obvious exaggerations’), together with claims that the average consumer is unlikely to take the exaggerations literally, are allowed and require no substantiation provided that they are not “materially misleading”. New Zealand, with its admirable penchant for and ability to tell it like it is in simple, straightforward language, makes no bones that “If you can’t back it up, don’t say it”. Despite any belief that no consumer will take puffery claims seriously, some people do. I’ve seen numerous discussions on various Face Book forums for brides about celebrant fees (usually starting with someone asking what a reasonable charge is), in which someone will say they are paying double or more and happy to do it because their celebrant is the “most sought after” celebrant in [Large City]. Nonetheless, for every couple that falls for FIGJAM puffery and pricing, many more will roll their eyes, go to your competition, and tell them, and everyone else, why.

The pricing impact of regulation

The Australian experience is that what is regulated, how celebrants are regulated, and the resulting impact on the cost of doing business, is continuously evolving. While no detail is yet available as to how celebrants would be regulated and managed in the UK and it is therefore unclear how granting independent celebrants the authority to solemnize legal marriages would impact on either costing or pricing, it would be reasonable to expect that it will cost more to operate compared with operating a business as an independent celebrant delivering only non-legal ceremonies. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that
  • Some government entity will be charged with authorization, oversight, and control of independent celebrants who are allowed to solemnize legal marriages
  • Independent celebrants, whether established, emerging, and future, will be required to jump through some hoops to achieve authorization to solemnise legal marriages. Extrapolated from the Australian experience, this could involve successful completion of mandated training undertaken through approved institutions, payment of an application fee, and meeting requirements that they are a fit and proper person, some of which has been mentioned by the Law Commission
  • A quota system may be implemented to control the rate and numbers of independent celebrants being authorized to solemnise legal marriages
  • A directory will be established to provide marrying couples with an easy way of checking whether their chosen celebrant is authorized to solemnize their marriage. You can see what is on the Australian directory at Because the date of authorization is the date published, any prior experience is obscured
  • Controls/limitations may be instituted on the content of ceremonies, acceptable advertising, conflict of interest, general conduct, and so on
  • Annual completion of professional development hours may be required with cost of compliance borne by the celebrant
  • Celebrants may be required to pay for official stationery, such as registers and certificates
  • Professional indemnity insurance will be required

The pricing impact of being in direct competition with Register/Registry Offices

The extent to which civil celebrants are able, or allowed, to offer legal marriage ceremonies that give couples more choice of content and location than those conducted by government entities such as the Register/ Registry Office impacts on marrying couples’ perception of value for money and facilitates the extent to which they can apply a premium when pricing their services.

The Australian experience, where Registry Office/Courthouse ceremonies have historically been short, standard, and limited to participation of the couple only with no personalization of vows or inclusion of readings, is that what the Registry Office charges for a marriage ceremony becomes the benchmark in the minds of the marrying public, regardless of differences in the level of service offered by civil celebrants. This can act as a constraint on what celebrants feel able to charge without pricing themselves out of the market.

Where to from here?

There are no easy answers. How you price your services will continue to be a complex interaction between how you respond to a changing environment, regulated or otherwise, your costs (making sure that all costs are included), your understanding of the market (which means a great deal of research), your success in positioning yourself within that market, and how celebrants, collectively, have responded to changes in the environment in which they operate. But what remains constant, regardless of the regulatory environment, or absence thereof, is that individual pricing strategies have a collective impact.

Jurisdiction-specific features of the Australian Celebrant Programme
  • The programme was implemented as an executive action by a Humanist Attorney General who unilaterally appointed the first celebrant in 1973
  • Legal marriages may be solemnized anywhere in Australia. It is the person not the venue/building that is “licensed” for marriages.
  • Marriage became a Commonwealth legal responsibility 1961
  • Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriage remained a State/Territory Responsibility reflecting the history of separate colonies (now states)
  • The Australian Government could not mandate that State Registry Offices accept and manage Notices of Intended Marriage on behalf of civil celebrants
  • Celebrants answer to the Federal Attorney-General’s Department for matters to do with statutory responsibilities, solemnization of a marriage, and compliance with the Code of Practice and to the Registry Office in the State in which the marriage took place for all matters related to registration of a marriage
  • Clergy are licensed to perform marriages, upon application by their denomination, by state Registry Offices. Licences must be renewed every five years
  • Celebrants are authorized for life, but will be immediately deregistered if they fail to pay the annual fee to the Attorney-General’s Department. This is the only offence for which immediate deregistration is mandated.
  • There is no Established Church in Australia

Thanks for reading!
And PS you'll find all of my very affordable fees under the Price Tab on the menu in the main section of this website.

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                        Jennifer Cram
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